Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the author of Last Night at the Viper Room, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and (with the original MTV VJs) the New York Times bestseller VJ. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I like caffeine, boardgames, and lists with three items.

Live Aid-a-versary

Thirty years ago today, lots of bands played in an epic concert in both London and Philadelphia, seeking to do something about famine in Africa (with mixed results).

Two years ago, I wrote up a list of the some of the Live Aid highlights that might jog memories (or send you down the YouTube rabbit hole).

Last year, I did a blow-by-blow writeup of U2’s performance of “Bad.”

Nothing new this year (moving across the country will do that), but I have a special project planned for next year. Now go watch Bowie’s set!

posted 13 July 2015 in Links. no comments yet

Parenthetical Rock Quiz

parenthesesCan you recognize song titles just from the sections that are in parentheses? If I throw “(She’s So Heavy)” at you, do you know the artist is the Beatles and the complete title is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? Given “(Into the Black),” can you come back with Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)? Then it’s time to test your PPQ (Parenthetical Power Quotient).

Below you will find a list of 25 songs–or more precisely, their parenthetical sections. Some of them are screamingly obvious; some of them will likely be stumpers. But none of the songs are particularly obscure: they are mostly well-known singles (including a bunch of chart-toppers). There’s a few album tracks sprinkled in, drawn from famous discs (the type that end up on greatest-albums-ever lists). The list skews in a rockish direction, but also includes pop, R&B, and hip-hop.

Give yourself a point for each song title that you can complete, and another point if you can name the artist. (There’s 25 songs, so you can score a maximum PPQ of 50 points.) I’ll put the answer key up in the comments section later in the day. Have (lots of) fun!

1. “(But I Won’t Do That)”
2. “(Can’t Live Without Your)”
3. “(Do It Right)”
4. “(Don’t Don’t Do It)”
5. “(The Ecology)”
6. “(For a Film)”
7. “(For Massenet)”
8. “(For Me)”
9. “(From the Shell)”
10. “(Gonna Be Alright)”
11. “(I’m A…)”
12. “(Nothing But)”
13. “(People It’s Bad)”
14. “(Pure Energy)”
15. “(Rock the Catskills)”
16. “(Roy)”
17. “(She’s)”
18. “(Sittin’ On)”
19. “(Three Different Ones)”
20. “(Tunnels)”
21. “(We Salute You)”
22. “(We’re Gonna)”
23. “(White Man)”
24. “(Who Loves Me)”
25. “(Wish I Could Fly Like)”

posted 10 July 2015 in Tasty Bits. 3 comments

Rolling in the Deep: 1/16/15

1035x1408-R1227CoverStevieNicksI’ve been busy lately–busy enough that I haven’t been telling you what I’ve been working on. But if you’d like to catch up on my recent writing for Rolling Stone, then I have links galore. For the print magazine, I wrote about Bill Murray (!), interviewed the Duplass Brothers (again), met Meghan Trainor (print version not online, but this Q&A is) and profiled Selma director Ava DuVernay (with some additional conversation with her found here).

Online, I conducted Q&As with Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, Terry Crews, Michael Schur, and Tunde Adebimpe and Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio. I attended a screening of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, hosted by the RZA; the all-star “We Can Survive” benefit, featuring Taylor Swift; a live interview of Jimmy Page by Chris Cornell; a retro hipster boxing match; and the American Music Awards. I broke down some live clips of the Rolling Stones, the Foo Fighters, the Beastie Boys, and Motley Crue. I reviewed a couple of books: one by George Clinton, one about Prince. Also, I interviewed the surviving Doors and listed 20 album covers that notoriously got censored.

Did I mention I wrote about Bill Murray? More Bill Murray here. (Have you ever had an encounter with Bill Murray? The comments section beckons!)

posted 16 January 2015 in Outside. no comments yet

Self-Descriptive Song Titles

I totally enjoyed the recent essay by Chris Molanphy (a friend of Rule Forty-Two) about Taylor Swift’s “Blank Spaces,” part of his excellent ongoing series for Slate on the songs that top the pop charts. This sentence jumped out at me:

It’s rare that a chart-topping hit’s title actually alludes to what the song itself sounds like—imagine if “When Doves Cry” were titled “Bass-less Confessional” or “Faith” called “Stuttering Rockabilly.”

This is more fun than imagining a world with no possessions! Restricting myself to #1 singles from the ’80s, I suggest Peter Gabriel’s “Recycled Otis Redding Riff” (originally “Sledgehammer”),  Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Bloopy Synthesizer” (formerly “Wishing Well”) and UB40’s “Leaden Reggae” (né “Red Red Wine”). (In a perfect world, I would be a Photoshop wizard who could remake the single sleeves with their new titles. But I am not.)

So how would you rename other singles?

posted 4 December 2014 in Links. 3 comments

Last Night at the Viper Room: Now in Paperback!

lastnightsmallI am delighted to announce that my book Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind is out in paperback today. So if you’ve been waiting for a bathtub-friendly copy, your time has come. I haven’t posted much about it lately, so may I remind you of a few favorite reviews? The Associated Press said “Edwards’ sensitive biography builds just the right tone for looking back at Phoenix’s life 20 years after his death: respect for his talents, admiration for his individuality and a subtle indignation for the tragedy to come.” USA Today described it as “insightful,” while the LA Weekly called it “enormously compelling.” The Vulture website said “it beautifully captures the weird Zeitgeist of the eighties and early nineties in a way that will remind those of us who were growing up at the time of not only River Phoenix, but also of ourselves at a younger age.”

Buy a copy for yourself, buy a copy for a friend! You can get it at Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Amazon, or your local bookstore.

posted 21 October 2014 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

R42 Mailbag: Meiert Avis

onestepupNow and then, this website attracts correspondence or comments from the people that I write about: the cowriter of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69,” the bassist from Information Society, the actor who starred in Poison’s video for “Nothin’ But a Good Time.” I was delighted the other day to get email from Meiert Avis, who has directed dozens of videos, including U2’s “With or Without You”–and the #55 entry on our 1988 countdown, Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up.”

Meiert sent a gracious note, which I reprint here with his permission:


I ran across your kind words about my Springsteen “One Step Up” video, and though I could fill in on some missing sequences that might make more sense of the video.

“Back to the bar, where Springsteen is now wearing a tan leather jacket. I assume this is meant to underscore that he’s been coming to this bar too often, not to dazzle us with costume changes.”

If you look closely you may see that, as well as the wardrobe changes, Springsteen is slightly more mature each time we cut back to him in the bar. In fact we used prosthetics to age him well into his sixties (where he is now). It was a long sweaty process, and, as far as I remember, pretty well executed. So the video narrative should read as him going to the same bar and thinking about the same shit for many years in some psycho-geographic loop. (One step up two steps back)

When marketing saw Bruce as an old man they decided it wasn’t quite the “look” that they were after and so we had to cut twenty or thirty years of aging work out of the video.

It had more humanity before.

It might be cool to remaster it with the original aging sequences today and see how it plays against the real Bruce.

As for “Brilliant Disguise”, which you found “remarkably dull”, I have written some blog-blather about the context and process, minimalist as it was.

Hey, at least it was “remarkable” for something, right? And I imagine the video has aged much better than you or I. I am actually very proud of it, but I do appreciate it’s not for everyone.

Anyway, thanks for the attention and all the best to you and yours.

Meiert Avis

Meiert also informed me that the redheaded bartender, who I thought might be Patti Scialfa making a cameo appearance, was not actually Scialfa–but that the resemblance was intentional. I thank him for the good-humored look behind the scenes, and strongly suggest you go check out his tale of making “Brilliant Disguise,” which is a very entertaining story of video production.

posted 15 October 2014 in 1988. no comments yet

Friday Foto: Ceci n’est pas une pipe

IMG_3053 - Version 2

Photographed in September in Runyon Canyon.

posted 10 October 2014 in Photos. no comments yet

Top Five Third Songwriters

Some bands have one primary songwriter. Others hash out most of their songs collaboratively (or pretend to), so you can’t really tell who’s contributing what. But a relatively unusual situation is when a group has three distinct songwriters: often two of them will be working in partnership, either artistic (e.g. the Beatles) or romantic (e.g. Sonic Youth). The third songwriter has to fight for space and glory–but if they deliver, then they can be the group’s secret weapon. All hail the third bananas! Five of the greatest:

1. George Harrison (the Beatles)

2. Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac)

3. Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)

4. Ron Wood (the Rolling Stones)

5. John Oates (Hall and Oates)

Poor John Oates–he’s the third-biggest songwriter in a two-man band (Hall’s ex Sara Allen was his collaborator on many hits).

posted 8 October 2014 in Tasty Bits. 5 comments

Friday Foto: Computer Blue

IMG_3118 - Version 2This picture requires some explanation. That’s my left hand holding a diskette that I was sent by Prince’s PR reps circa 1993 (when I was a music editor at Details). That generation of disk is an artifact by itself, but what makes this one particularly interesting is that it had the software patches necessary to typeset (and, if memory serves, word-process) Prince’s new name, which was the unpronounceable glyph you see stamped on it. I have a bunch of weird rock memorabilia in the closet (Breeders tube socks!), but this is probably the oddest item of all.

posted 3 October 2014 in Photos. no comments yet

1988 Countdown #37: Richard Marx, “Hold on to the Nights”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.) marx2We return from our commercial break to see Adam Curry, who is somehow keeping his balance despite the enormous top-heavy weight of his hair and the twenty-pound decoration dangling from his breast pocket. Adam reads the copy while placing his splayed fingertips together, as if he were a Bond villain.

“The countdown continues of the top 100 videos of the past year, which was a spectacular year for Richard Marx. The climax of his career in 1988 must have been his show that he did for MTV during spring break in Daytona–everybody loved it. Of course, he produced Vixen in the past year, right now he’s working on the new Poco album, producing that, and he hopes to have an album of his own out by April of 1989. Right now, the #37 video on our top 100 countdown. Here’s Richard, with ‘Hold on to the Nights.’” marx1I don’t think “climax of his career” is quite what Curry meant–it implies that everything would be downhill for Marx after that–but it proved to be pretty much accurate. (He may not look back at the spring break show as the high-water mark, but I bet he gets nostalgic for 1988.) Also: Poco? Really?

We get a funky transition: about forty spinning little diamonds take us from Curry on set to the video. This was a state-of-the-art special effect in 1988. “Hold on to the Nights” was the fourth single from Marx’s triple-platinum debut album, which had been peeling off singles since the middle of 1987, which means that by ancient video law, it was time for a letterboxed performance video to show Marx’s fans how hard he was working for them on that long lonely road. This appears to be the studio track with some crowd noise overdubbed; I suppose I could check by listening to the original album version, but what I am willing to endure for this countdown has limits. marx3A color close-up of Marx’s hands playing the piano yields to a slow montage of black-and-white photos from the tour: screaming fans, Marx adopting a macho posture while playing guitar, more screaming fans, Marx with a microphone, Marx looking lonely at the keyboard. There’s a three-photo sequence where Marx reaches out to touch the outstretched hand of a girl in the crowd, like a particularly slow animation. MTV has the title of the song subtly wrong in the credits block: they’ve rendered it as “Hold Onto The Nights.” marx4Marx begins to sing–“Just when I believed / I couldn’t ever want for more”–which doesn’t particularly improve matters. We finally cut from his hands to his face: he’s in a black T-shirt, his hair looking poodle-perfect. There is a reserve microphone sitting on top of the piano, presumably in case Marx has a microphone emergency.

Marx continues singing. The lyrics don’t improve. “This ever-changing world / Pushes me through another door.” We get a wider shot, showing that Marx is surrounded by musicians in shadow, either waiting for their cue to start playing or conspiring for the best moment to leap on Marx and pummel him to death with that reserve microphone.

More doggerel: “I saw you smile / And my mind could not erase / The beauty of your face.” In 1988, I thought this song was a dreary, forgettable ballad, and it hasn’t gotten better in the interim. The main thing it has going for it is a certain level of professional craft: it’s a well-made, if utterly generic, song, with a professional but bloodless performance.

When this song was at its commercial height, my friend Ted Friedman was doing a shift at our college radio station, WYBC, playing the likes of Mudhoney and Sonic Youth. He got a call from a young woman who requested “Hold on to the Nights.”

“I’m not going to play that,” he told her. “But it’s the number-one song in the country. Just flip around on your radio–you’ll find it somewhere.”

We see a white towel on top of the piano, presumably because Marx sweats excessively when he’s emoting at full strength. Then there’s a live shot of woman in the audience, singing along to “let me shelter you.” marx5We get many more black-and-white still pictures (Marx playing guitar, Marx clenching fist, fan with lighter held aloft): my operating theory is that Marx’s management paid some photographer a lot of money for them, discovered they didn’t have any real use for them, and wanted to amortize the cost by throwing them into the video’s budget.

With a little shimmer of drumsticks on a cymbal, the band joins in, barely audibly. They are totally paycheck pros. The drummer has a big mop of curly hair, a mustache, and a pugnacious face. He looks like he’s the second heavy behind Dennis Farina in a made-for-cable gangster movie.

Marx renders the word “surprise” as “surpri-yi-ai-ize.” The rhyming word is “disguise,” which he managers to sing with fewer syllables. The editing on the still photos gets faster, trying to communicate a sense of excitement that the chorus doesn’t. With images of Marx’s tour flickering by, the video has a victory-lap feel, as if he was about to go into a long retirement. We see one shirt with a graphic element (Benetton?) and another with a picture of a gaunt Elvis Presley, with “ANNIVERSARY” visible underneath. Overplaying one’s Elvis delusions is a pretty common pitfall for the second-rate rock star. marx7Marx reaches the bridge, an opportunity to give us a few glimpses of offstage Richard: walking to the tour bus, looking out the bus window at blurry scenery, the band posing together, Richard presenting a gold record to a woman in a hospital bed (presumably an ailing fan who got a special visit, not somebody that got hit by his bus), Richard lying on a hotel bed and talking on the phone, then several shots of Richard looking pensive. marx9The band has been laboring, to little effect on the audio mix. But now there’s an audible guitar solo. The guitarist is wearing a denim jacket and has his hair piled high; he looks like a Q-Tip. Marx picks up that microphone–as Chekov said, if there’s an unused mic sitting on the piano in the first act, a singer must use it in the third act–and goes right to the lip of the stage. A reserve pianist is released from his life-support pod and fills in on the keyboard.

Marx kneels down next to one young woman in a maroon top, who is singing along. Right next to her are three guys, who look kind of bored, and I wonder how they ended up in the front row. This doesn’t actually appear to be a live show–I think it was filmed in a studio with just a few rows of fans, and was bolstered by the photos to give that onstage feel. marx11Marx hits his version of maximum rockage, belting out the chorus while reaching up to the sky. As the guitarist keeps soloing, we see more black and white shots of the band, revealing that it has a saxophone player. Marx leans back and finishes with a dramatic punch in the air, and again, and again. And then the video ends with a shot of a single lighter in the air, a testament to the raw pulsating power of adult-contemporary music.

“Hold on to the Nights,” as mentioned previously, topped the Billboard singles charts. You can watch it here. It was the last single off Richard Marx; while it seems odd to end an album cycle right after you hit #1, I guess he must have been eager to get to work on Repeat Offender. Or maybe the record company thought everything else on this record was dreck. Marx also appeared on the countdown at #66, with “Endless Summer Nights.”

posted 25 September 2014 in 1988. 4 comments